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Gunning for the Super Bowl of Fishing

Judith Foxx-Johnson and her husband Bobby hspace=2

There's even more money than usual on Lake Norman this weekend. Slick bass rigs add to the ranks of boats bobbing alongside the area's ritzy houses. Tournament organizer Porter Trimble takes it all in from behind the wheel of one fast boat. "These boats are upwards in the mid to upper 50's. You look at a guy that's got a brand new bass rig and a brand new truck. You're looking at well over $100,000 of equipment. You haven't even looked at rods and reels or the lures or anything like that," says Trimble. Those rods and reels run about $150. Plus there are fuel costs for the boat- a 50-gallon tank- and for road travel. And all that gear you put on. Chad Wiley knows it's not a cheap sport. "It's a lot and it's hard to do without any sponsorship help. And right now I'm paying for everything," he says. I ask, "So does everything you earn pretty much go into this?" "Pretty much. You've got to love it. Or you'll go broke." Wiley is a corrections officer from central Louisiana. He's been competing for 15 years and has won several local and regional tournaments. Wiley started fishing as a kid and got hooked on winning when he started competitive fishing. He says, "The winner goes to the Bassmaster Classic. So this is a do or die tournament right here. Second place, yeah it's good for the money. But I think first place, you got a future ahead of you." These are individual and team competitions. There's no live bait and the person or team with the most pounds of fish, wins. Individual anglers must catch at least five fish to qualify. Co-anglers need at least three. The winner gets $100,000 in prize money. Perhaps even more significant is the $105,000 in sponsorships for meeting certain requirements. And in case you're worried about the fish- they get released back in the lake each day after they're weighed. On the water, we meet up with Judith Foxx-Johnson and her husband, Bobby. They're from Florida. Judith was the first woman to place in the top five in the Bassmaster Weekend series. "So we have a celebrity in our midst?!" exclaims Trimble. Winning prize money is called "making a check." Bobby explains, "Respect!... Bragging rights. Yeah, if you make a check you got a little respect. If it's a smaller check, you the last guy to get a check, you know you get a little bit of respect." Judith chimes in with a laugh, "That's right you don't want to have to do the walk of shame!" The couple hasn't caught anything yet during this practice. But I'm quickly learning it's all part of the draw of this sport. "There's a lot of people out there that say, what's so hard about it. You just go out there and fish," says Josh Guess, another Florida native. The 27-year old can't get enough of what he calls the mind game of fishing. "Try to compare to basketball or football or anything like that which is a team sport. In this sport it's all you against something you cannot control. Fish. Things change every second of day," says Guess. And just because a bunch of fish are hanging around somewhere at a certain time of day doesn't mean they'll be there again the next day, at that same exact time. The organizer, Trimble, says having a clear head despite the changing elements and the never-ending chatter in your head is key. He says, "As long as you keep telling yourself it's just me against those green fish and I need to figure them out and that's how I'll win this tournament. The mental game is a lot bigger than people realize when it comes to bass fishing tournaments." There are 248 participants in the tournament this week. After the Thursday and Friday weigh-ins they'll be whittled down to 25. And winner goes to the big-time: the 2009 Bassmaster Classic in Shreveport, La. Top prize is $1.2 million.